Transgender Care Resources for Family Physicians


Am Fam Physician. 2006 Sep 15;74(6):924-926.

In the early 1970s, professional tennis player Renée Richards brought gender identity disorder (GID), then called transsexualism, to the American public’s awareness. Since then, guidelines for treatment of GID—also called gender dysphoria—have been developed in the United States.

Because family physicians may encounter transgendered persons in their practices, it is important to understand basic treatment plans, adverse effects of treatment, and referral options. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th ed., GID is the severe and persistent belief that a person’s gender identity is not congruent with his or her biologic gender.1 The desire for gender change must be present for at least two years, be independent of sexual orientation, and be alleviated by transgender identification.1 A recent study in the Netherlands estimated the incidence of GID to be about one in 11,900 males and one in 30,400 females.24 Like sexual orientation, GID is thought to be related to genetic and environmental factors. Behavioralists have not come to a consensus on any set cause.5

The degree of dissatisfaction or dysphoria with biologic gender will inf luence the degree to which the person changes gender identity. To be eligible for treatment, patients must work with mental health professionals skilled in the diagnosis and treatment of GID. After months or years of counseling, the patient begins real-life gender role experience combined with or followed by hormonal therapy and possibly surgery.2,6

Estrogen is the cornerstone of feminizing hormonal treatment.4,6 Antiandrogens such as spironolactone may be added to potentiate the feminizing effects of estrogen.6 The hormonal treatment for masculinization is androgen treatment with testosterone.2,4,6 With either hormonal regimen, body changes that ensue are gradual and not reversible. Genital surgery is the definitive step in therapy, but it is costly and complex. For many persons with GID, there is no need for genital-altering surgery because hormonal therapy and cosmetic procedures are sufficient.2,4,6 A study of factors associated with regret or satisfaction after male-to-female surgery found that participants who achieved good cosmetic and functional results were highly satisfied with their surgery and reported improved quality of life.7

As with biologic women who take estrogen and progestin, transgendered patients treated with these agents may be at risk of thromboembolic events and breast cancer.6,8 The most common adverse effects of androgen therapy are increased cardiovascular risk factors of the metabolic syndrome and increased hematocrit levels.2,4,6 Although hormonal therapy and surgery carry risks of life-threatening complications, failure to treat patients with GID carries risks of depression and high rates of substance abuse and suicide, especially in young adults.9

Transgendered persons face many difficulties because of societal and familial lack of acceptance and understanding of GID. One of the most important issues a transgendered person must face is the recognition of their new gender in legal documents. In the United States, transgendered persons are permitted to have their gender changed on legal documents after providing proof of gender identity modification, usually defined as a surgical procedure. In cases of divorce and child custody, the key issue is whether to legally recognize the postoperative gender identity. Most courts in the United States recognize the postoperative gender identity and will grant marriage nullifications.10

Discrimination and violence often are encountered by transgendered persons in the workplace. Patients who disclose their new gender identity and request workplace accommodations may face negative consequences such as harassment, intimidation, property destruction, and termination. More than 50 percent of transgendered patients report undergoing some form of harassment, and at least 25 percent report that they have been involved in a violent incident. Violence is more often directed at male-to-female transgendered persons.11

Patients considering transgender treatment should be aware of the consequences that can affect most areas of life: health, family, work, and relationships. Information and support is available from physicians and organizations that work closely with lesbian and gay health issues (Table 1).

View/Print Table


Resources for Physicians of Transgendered Patients

Gay and Lesbian Medical Association (http://www.glma.org)

Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (http://www.pflag.org)

The Harry Benjamin International Gender Dysphoria Association, Inc. (http://www.hbigda.org)

Transgender Law and Policy Institute (http://www.transgenderlaw.org)


Resources for Physicians of Transgendered Patients

Gay and Lesbian Medical Association (http://www.glma.org)

Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (http://www.pflag.org)

The Harry Benjamin International Gender Dysphoria Association, Inc. (http://www.hbigda.org)

Transgender Law and Policy Institute (http://www.transgenderlaw.org)

The Authors

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ANNE M. PROULX, D.O., is assistant professor of family medicine at Wright State University School of Medicine, Dayton, Ohio, and associate director of the Dayton Community Family Medicine Residency. Dr. Proulx received her medical degree from the New York College of Osteopathic Medicine in Old Westbury and completed a family medicine residency at the University of Pittsburgh (Pa.) Medical Center Shadyside Hospital....

SHERRI L. MORGAN, M.D., M.P.H., is assistant professor of family medicine at Wright State University School of Medicine, where she also received her medical degree. She received her master’s degree in public health from the University of Pittsburgh (Pa.) Graduate School of Public Health and completed a family medicine residency at Mount Carmel Hospital, Columbus, Ohio.

GORDON S. WALBROEHL, M.D., is professor of family medicine at Wright State University School of Medicine. He received his medical degree from the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, Newark, and completed a family medicine residency at Andrews Air Force Base, Md.

Address correspondence to Anne M. Proulx, D.O., Dayton Community Family Practice Residency, 2345 Philadelphia Dr., Dayton, OH 45406 (e-mail:anne.proulx@wright.edu). Reprints are not available from the authors.


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1. American Psychiatric Association. Gender identity disorder. In: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. 4th ed. Washington, D.C.: American Psychiatric Association, 1994:532–8....

2. Harry Benjamin International Gender Dysphoria Association, Inc. The Standards of Care for Gender Identity Disorders. 6th ed. Accessed August 23, 2006, at: http://www.hbigda.org/soc.htm.

3. Israel GE, Tarver DE. Transgender Care: Recommended Guidelines, Practical Information, and Personal Accounts. Philadelphia, Pa.: Temple University, 1997:183–261.

4. Moore E, Wisniewski A, Dobs A. Endocrine treatment of transsexual people: a review of treatment regimens, outcomes, and adverse effects. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2003;88:3467–73.

5. Rosario VA. Homosexuality and Science: A Guide to the Debates. Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-CLIO, 2002:116–7.

6. Levy A, Crown A, Reid R. Endocrine intervention for transsexuals. Clin Endocinol (Oxf). 2003;59:409–18.

7. Lawrence AA. Factors associated with satisfaction or regret following male-to-female sex reassignment surgery. Arch Sexual Behavior. 2002;32:299–315.

8. Toorians AW, Thomassen MC, Zweegman S, Magdeleyns EJ, Tans G, Gooren LJ, et al. Venous thrombosis and changes of hemostatic variables during cross-sex hormone treatment in transsexual people. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2003;88:5723–9.

9. Zucker KJ, Bradley SJ. Gender Identity Disorder and Psychosexual Problems in Children and Adolescents. New York, N.Y.: Guilford, 1995:308–15.

10. Hunter ND, Joslin CG, McGowan SM. The Rights of Lesbians, Gay Men, Bisexuals, and Transgender People: the Authoritative ACLU Guide to a Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, or Transgender Person’s Rights. 4th ed. Carbondale, Ill.: Southern Illinois University, 2004.

11. Lombardi EL, Wilchins RA, Priesing D, Malouf D. Gender violence: transgender experiences with violence and discrimination. J Homosex. 2001;42;89–101.



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